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Friday, July 31, 2015

Spandau Ballet concert review: Costa Mesa, Calif.

photo by Drew A Kelley
The last time Spandau Ballet performed in Orange County was 1985 at Irvine Meadows.

On Wednesday night in Costa Mesa, singer Tony Hadley recalled feeling “so euphoric because we'd never done an open air amphitheater before.”

Many fans experienced a similar sense of delight as the popular British new wave band made its long awaited return at the Pacific Amphitheatre. Others were obviously curious about the well-tailored men whose only U.S. top 10 hit was 1983’s “True.”

Yet there was far more to Spandau Ballet than that romantic ballad. Back home, the London quintet notched over a dozen top 20 singles and several gold and platinum albums – enough to rival Duran Duran – before splitting at the decade’s end.

Since the ’09 reunion, acoustic and retrospective albums (“Once More,” “The Story”) and a documentary (“Soul Boys of the Western World,” now available on DVD/Blu-ray) have been released.

Spandau Ballet opened the 1 hour, 45-minute set with the sleek drama of “Soul Boy,” the first of four appealing new tracks performed from “The Story.” All could’ve easily fit on the “True” LP, but still sound modern. Hadley belted out the ending with operatic flair.

Steve Norman added a fresh sax run to the racing “Highly Strung” and Gary Kemp provided some razor sharp guitar work. Before the strong, snazzy new tune “This is the Love,” Hadley apologized for taking “so long to get back.”

The lush vocals and billowy keyboards on “Steal” featured a sustained note from the singer, who would continually dazzle with his robust pipes (and chuckle at fans’ antics) all evening. There was plenty of camaraderie between the musicians, who often leaned on each other and sang into the same microphone.

When the band kicked into the high energy funk of “Chant No. 1,” it got additional people up and dancing. A grooving electro-pop medley from ’81 debut “Journeys to Glory” saw Kemp switch to synthesizer and Norman to electric guitar. “The Freeze” and “To Cut a Long Story Short” were highlights.

photo by Drew A Kelley
Following drum and percussion solos (the latter by Norman, who was the busiest person onstage), Hadley appeared in the terrace section with Kemp on double neck guitar for the tender acoustic ballad “Empty Spaces” (from 1989’s “Heart Like a Sky”). They also did a quick flamenco-style “Gold” that was basically a crowd singalong.

The calm-to-soaring shift on “I'll Fly for You” was enrapturing, while the fun “Communication” and joyous “Lifeline” had everyone bopping right along (the musicians were helped on the high vocalizations by auxiliary keyboardist Toby Chapman).

By the end, “True” elevated the Costa Mesa crowd’s energy level and Norman played that famous sax solo – one of 1983’s most memorable alongside Duran Duran’s “Rio” – with plenty of verve.

Come encore time, Spandau Ballet delivered the epic grandeur of “Through the Barricades,” which Hadley described as “a real Romeo and Juliet love story.” He sang it with dramatic gestures and Kemp capped it off with an amazing weepy guitar solo. They finished with an ebullient electric reprise of the smash “Gold.”

Opening the show was SiriusXM 1st Wave/Jack FM deejay Richard Blade, who tested the audience’s knowledge of 1980s lyrics for concert tickets and seat upgrades. He also surprised people by bringing out When in Rome’s Clive Farrington to sing his 1988 dance chart topper “The Promise.”

A version of my review originally appeared at ocregister.com

Third Eye Blind, Dashboard Confessional concert review: Irvine, Calif.

photo by Drew A. Kelley
Stephan Jenkins was in an enigmatic mood at Irvine Meadows on July 27.
 
Hiding in a hoodie, the Third Eye Blind singer and his bandmates emerged onstage shrouded in dim lighting for the strange intro to their blaring hit "Graduate." That aloofness continued into the next song, "Blinded."

A short time later, during the infectious top 10 single "Never Let You Go," Jenkins encouraged openness and mutual introductions among concertgoers. "We can get beyond ourselves together and presume we're all friends," he said.

One week after a freak rainstorm flooded the venue's main entryway and led to the initial concert being postponed, devoted Third Eye Blind and Dashboard Confessional fans returned in droves. "We made it. I'm so grateful to all of you for coming back," said Jenkins.

Last month, 3EB put out "Dopamine," the first studio album in six years. Recorded in analog, several songs are about searching for authenticity. Despite a few wobbly lyrics, it still contains some of the alt-rock band's best material since 1997's hugely successful self-titled debut CD.

Playing alongside founders Jenkins and drummer Brad Hargraves, the other musicians definitely proved their mettle in O.C. "Crystal Baller" and "Losing a Whole Year" (prefaced by the stripped down Beyonce cover "Mine") were brawny as ever, while newer tunes like the mildly funky, David Bowie-referencing "Rites of Passage" (including a snippet of U2's "With or Without You") and bleak "Back to Zero" came across strongly live. Meanwhile, subdued lesser known tracks "Slow Motion" and "Motorcycle Driveby" really got the diehards engaged. 

Since this gig marked the end of the tour, Jenkins' vocals were a bit frayed at times, but nothing major. Toward night's end, 3EB impressed with the exultant main set closer "Jumper" and an extended take on best known smash "Semi-Charmed Life." Both went down a storm.
 
photo by Drew A. Kelley
Anyone who assumed Chris Carrabba would be pouring his heart out with an acoustic guitar and minor instrumental backing what often happened in the early 2000s (see: platinum seller "MTV Unplugged 2.0") were mostly in for a surprise.

Clad in a flannel shirt and ripped jeans, the wirey Dashboard Confessional main man and his cohorts - including longtime bassist Scott Schoenbeck - did an exhillarating hourlong set that frequently veeered into melodic hardcore territory.
 
Carrabba thanked those in the crowd who "powered through" the scuttled show's mess and opened with a blaring "The Good Fight." It was the first of five selections from 2001's "The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most." 

Grinning from ear to ear and possessing an unbridled energy, Carrabba's dramatic vocals made a major impact on "No News is Bad News," the strident "Vindicated" (with guest piano work by 3EB's Alex Kopp), an aggressive "Don't Wait" and "The Best Deceptions." Carrabba's fragile side also shone through during the winsome ballad "Stolen" and majestic, piano-based "Belle of the Boulevard." A.J. Cheek played the life out of his electric guitar, at one point going so far as lying on the floor while turning in circles.

The real treat came when Carrabba gave the crowd a taste of his Americana group Twin Forks and did their delightful "Back to You" with one of its members. Other standouts from the Taylor Swift-approved band included best known songs "Screaming Infidelities" and finale "Hands Down."

A version of this review originally ran at ocregister.com

Monday, July 27, 2015

Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean concert review: Pasadena, Calif.

photo by Armando Brown
If Kenny Chesney ever decides to quit music, he'd be a fine motivational speaker. The country music superstar has a knack for making people feel good about life, which comes across while talking to fans and within the song lyrics.

On Saturday at the Rose Bowl, two of the biggest tours in America this year - Chesney's Big Revival and Jason Aldean's Burn it Down - came together for a mega throwdown. The 6 1/2 hour event was the first time the Pasadena venue hosted a country concert. One of 10 such stadium mergers, it drew close to 54,000 people. 

Before Chesney got started, some ladies with air cannons shot out t-shirts like at an Angels game. His usual welcome video montage was updated from previous jaunts. No stranger to dramatic entrances, the singer kicked off the energetic two-hour Pasadena show with "Drink it Up" while sitting in a chair attached to a harness. He traveled across the field before landing onstage. 

The 24-song set included numerous top 10 singles, plus a few covers. AC/DC's "Whole Lotta Rosie" was sung by the female bassist and rocked hard; John Mellencamp's "Hurts So Good" came amid a fun encore section featuring Jason Aldean (the latter's voice was slightly better suited for it). 

Among the standouts: "Summertime," which thrilled the singalong happy, beer-hoisting crowd; a wistful "I Go Back," the punchy "Beer in Mexico," exhilarating double shot of "Living in Fast Forward" and "Young," where a tireless Chesney jumped around and his guitarist laid on the floor; last year's big hit "American Kids" (a prime example of how to work an audience). 

Frequently conveying gratitude, Chesney capped the main set with sports ballad "The Boys of Fall." He said it was an honor to perform in a "place where football means so much." Overall, the sound was excellent - no easy feat in a stadium. 

photo by Armando Brown
Aldean put on an explosive 85-minute show - and not just because of the ample pyro employed. 

Together with his tight band, they rocked out at strategic moments (opening salvo "Hicktown," "My Kinda Party," "Crazy Town," crunching closer "She's Country") and utilized programming or hip hop elements ("Burnin' it Down," "Dirt Road Anthem," current No.1 "Tonight Looks Good on You") without coming across as forced. 

But the pedal steel-sweetened tunes (a heartfelt "The Truth," "Flyover States," "Tattoos on This Town") were ultimately more satisfying. Fans sang along loudly and gave Aldean's winsome take on Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" a rousing response.

Brantley Gilbert's outlaw music and image was an awkward fit with the co-headliners. His 45-minute performance filed with harrowing songs about good 'ol boys raising hell got a tepid reaction from my section (some people nearby said they weren't big fans).

A sound mix that left Gilbert's sandpaper vocals buried under the constant barrage of guitars didn't help matters. The instrumental Metallica and Motley Crue teases were useless. The only saving grace was "You Don't Know Her Like I Do," a chart topping ballad inspired by Gilbert's new bride that showcased his upper register. 

"Are you ready to party?" asked Cole Swindell, before his jubilant 25-minutes on stage. Constantly moving and mixing it up with people, the gregarious singer had no problem getting some dancing and audience participation going, especially during hits like "Chillin' It," "Hope You Get Lonely Tonight" and "Ain't Worth the Whiskey."

Newcomer Old Dominion did a solid set for early arrivals baking in the heat. Comprised of some of country music's top songwriters, the band often mixed spoken verses with harmony-laden choruses. The breezy "Break Up with Him" and pleasant, synthesized "Snap Back" (from the forthcoming debut album) fared best. 

A version of my review originally appeared at ocregister.com

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Culture Club concert review: Los Angeles

photo by Armando Brown
"It's a miracle we're all here," admitted Boy George, early in Culture Club's spirited Greek Theatre show on Thursday. Indeed, the singer's career became a cautionary tale about what the self-indulgent Eighties wrought.

Emerging during the early part of that decade, the London band's unique blend of pop, soul and reggae, plus an androgynous, unpredictable front man resulted in a half dozen top 10 singles, platinum albums and a Grammy Award over a short time. The quartet broke up amid George's drugs and legal problems, then resurfaced in the late '90s with an underrated studio CD and tour before going their separate ways again in 2003. 

Now the guys are back, healthy and highly visible, thanks to appearances on "Today," "Conan," "American Idol" and elsewhere. George was honored with the U.K.'s prestigious Ivor Novello Award. Last month, he joined Mark Ronson onstage at England's Glastonbury Festival to a rousing response and will be the subject of a new reality series.

The Greek gig, part of Culture Club's first American tour in 15 years, proved they're not all about nostalgia. Six new tracks were nestled into the 20-song, 105-minute set. All should appear on forthcoming reunion album "Tribes," scheduled for release next year (pre-order at www.pledgemusic.com). 

Although George made the media and concert rounds with his 2013 solo album, some fans in LA still might have been surprised at his now-huskier baritone voice. It took a few songs to get warmed up, but the female backing vocal trio rounded everything off nicely. The four original band members were bolstered by seven other musicians (including a horn section) onstage to provide a robust sound. 

"I've dressed down," joked George, while sporting a large twisty black hat and tasteful attire. Fans provided plenty of vibrancy. Before showtime, one guy outside the venue's gates sat on a horse in a "Cow Boy George" jacket and Western chaps. Others paid homage with gladiator outfits, colorful hair extensions, Devo energy domes, BOY hats, etc.

photo by Armando Brown
Some amusing '80s Culture Club clips served as an introduction before Jon Moss started the exuberant, Motown-styled "Church of the Poisoned Mind" and guitarist Roy Hay got everyone clapping along. The brass really shined here and during the Latin-tinged "I'll Tumble 4 Ya," with the band's old music videos projected on a screen.

"Let Somebody Love You," the initial new song, proved promising with its loping reggae rhythm and George toasting about being "a poet in New York City." A similar relaxed groove enveloped the cover of Bread's "Everything I Own" (although George's solo version topped the UK charts in '87, several fans seemed pleasantly surprised). The practicing Buddhist singer prefaced that song with his own proverb: "The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom. If you take a wrong turn, it can get messy. I'm here to preach that."

The musicians really got a chance to stretch out during funky new one "Like I Used To." Culture Club's last U.S. hit from '86, "Move Away," was sublime as ever, but received blank stares in my section. A supremely soulful "Black Money" benefitted from George's burnished, world weary tone and vocal sparring with longtime tour foil Zee Asha.

Requesting quiet on the tender ballad "Victims," George just sang alongside Hay on piano until the others joined in for the dramatic crescendo. (On a personal note, the song was just as stunning as the first time I saw them do it live 30 years ago at the Pacific Amphitheatre - my third concert ever). The luxurious hit "Time (Clock of the Heart)" was another set highlight. 

"I never really left the '70s," said George, before sumptuous new tune "Different Man," musically and lyrically inspired by Sly Stone. As an old "Soul Train" clip projected, he really got down vocally with the ladies. All fans were up and dancing a storm during a feisty "Miss Me Blind," elevated by Hay's guitar solo. George added a new toast and patois vocal to the laid back reggae of "I Just Wanna Be Loved" (a U.K. top 5 hit from '98).

George's own successful title track to "The Crying Game" went down a storm; the band nailed its dark elegance. The same response expectedly greeted "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" New folk stomper "The Truth is a Runaway Train," inspired by Johnny Cash, was definitely a winner. 

Come encore time, George changed into a glittery gold chandelier hat for a fun "Karma Chameleon," which was a big crowd singalong (the harmonica was too low in the mix though). Then a mass exodus ensued. Those fans missed the soaring latest single "More Than Silence," resplendent with George's smoldering vocal and an obviosly happy Hay's rocking guitar work and glorious take on David Bowie's "Starman." 
 
The band was joined on it by surprise special guest Jack Black, who performed The Doors' "Hello, I Love You" with George and Robby Krieger on the Conan show earlier this month. 

"We'll be back," George said. Let's hope so. 

A different version of my review originally appeared at ocregister.com

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

5 Seconds of Summer concert review: Irvine, Calif.

photo by Drew A. Kelley
A version of my review originally appeared at ocregister.com 

When 5 Seconds of Summer sang "let's make tonight the best of our lives/here's to teenage memories" onstage at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, the band was referring to a romantic date. 

But the lyrics to a soaring "Kiss Me Kiss Me" could have easily applied to the sold out concert on Monday night, where thousands of young girls (and women) screamed their hearts out at near deafening levels.

The Aussie pop/punk sensation, with three of the four members still teenagers themselves, just launched a large venue headlining tour (dubbed "Rock Out with Your Socks Out," no doubt a subtle nod to the Red Hot Chili Peppers) after two previous summers opening for One Direction.

Last year's self-titled debut album entered atop the Billboard chart, went gold and spawned three top 40 pop singles. The guys co-write and play on most of the songs, which sets them apart from so-called boy bands. 

Before the OC show began, music videos and ads flashed on the screens. Each time 5SOS appeared, massive shrieking followed. I spotted a girl wearing a pizza costume (in homage to a song title); another fan gave a rundown of exactly what the proceedings would entail to her newbie friends. 

Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" served as intro music. It led into a sonic montage including Fountains of Wayne and Earth Wind & Fire while a fake stock exchange tally scrolled teen centric products across a lower scrim. Ashton Irwin's drum kit lifted into the air. He did an extended bit until the band kicked off the 90-minute gig in high energy fashion with "End up Here."

The set list featured a few minor tweaks from the one used last winter at The Forum (the basis for a subsequent live album). Lead singer/guitarist Luke Hemmings, bassist Calum Hood and lead guitarist Michael Clifford ably traded tandem vocal duties on most songs and were all over the stage. The latter looked no worse for wear following a recent pyro mishap at London's Wembley Arena that singed his hair and face.

photo by Drew A. Kelley
"Permanent Vacation," the first of two catchy new tracks slated for a studio effort due later this year, was an early highlight. The infectious harmonies in "Don't Stop" were equally strong.

There was plenty of fun between song banter from the guys.

A harder edged "Rejects" segued into Good Charlotte's "Girls & Boys," with that group's Joel and Benji Madden coaxed into guesting on the minor '02 hit. The brothers exited and 5SOS praised their occasional songwriting partners.

Unlike older-skewing concerts, where people are always leaving for drinks and food, most fans here stood for the duration, enthusiastically waved signs or flags and hung on every word. Dramatic acoustic guitar-based power ballads "Amnesia" and "Beside You" had their rapt attention. Clifford did see somebody exit for some grub and composed a silly song about hot dogs right on the spot.

Green Day is a major influence on 5SOS and the band did their usual fiery (this time uncensored) take on "American Idiot." New single "She's Kinda Hot" came across ok, but "She's So Perfect" was totally energized. Finally, 5SOS stomped through The Romantics' "What I Like About You," another set mainstay.

Hey Violet warmed up the crowd with an enthusiastic performance that recalled Paramore and the Muffs. This LA-based pop punk quartet featuring the Lovelis sisters put out a CD as Cherry Bomb on Hollywood Records in 2012. Now signed to 5SOS's Hi or Hey imprint, they did songs from a new EP. All got a rousing response, namely the keening "Smash Into You" and slower "Sparks Fly." The peppy cover of Billy Idol's "Dancing with Myself" was a good fit.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Lindi Ortega heads to 'Faded Gloryville'

photo by Julie Moe
I really enjoyed Ortega's set at this year's Stagecoach (see review elsewhere on this blog) and look forward to her new material...

Lindi Ortega has partnered with Rdio -- a personalized stations-first Internet radio experience -- for an exclusive premiere of "I Ain't That Girl." The track is from her fourth studio album, Faded Gloryville, out Aug. 7 on The Grand Tour/Last Gang Records.

Rdio will also feature a Q&A with six-time Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television award winner George Stroumboulopoulos of CBC Radio's "The Strombo Show," where Lindi talks about living in Nashville, the influence of Leonard Cohen and why she chose to record a cover by The Bee Gees.

Influenced by music that varies from '70s country records to classic soul, Lindi's creative vision for Faded Gloryville led her to team with producers Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton), Colin Linden (T Bone Burnett) and the Muscle Shoals-based team of Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes) and John Paul White (Civil Wars).


Although all three sessions were different, every one of them focused on live studio takes, capturing both the rough-edged rawness of Ortega's live performances and the smooth salve of her voice.

"There's something about the Shoals that entices artists to forget themselves, to reimagine, to reinvent," says John Paul White, whose harmonies can also be heard on three of the album's tracks. "Lindi did a great job of immersing herself in what we do around here, yet retain that thing that makes her indelibly unique. That takes an amount of confidence that most do not have."

Ortega has a reason to be confident. Her first two albums, Little Red Boots and Cigarettes & Truckstops, were both long listed for the Polaris Music Prize, while 2013's Tin Star -- which found her working with Cobb for the first time -- helped her win a Canadian Country Music Award for Roots Artist of the Year.

She's toured North America with artists like Social Distortion, whose punk-loving audiences were quick to accept Ortega as one of their own. In a decade filled with big-budget country albums, she's something different: a throwback to the glory days of '70s country, whose stars mixed the twang of the south with the do-it-yourself attitude of rock & roll.

"'Faded Gloryville' isn't just about music," she told Rolling Stone Country. "It's about anything that brings you down, whether it's dreams not coming true or relationships not working out, and its message is this: you can go to place where you're feeling really down about things, but it's what you do afterwards -- do you decide to reside there forever, or do you leave and make the situation better -- that matters. You have to travel through 'Faded Gloryville' to get to Paradise."

Lindi will play Ink N Iron and AmericanaFest in weeks following the album release, available for pre-order here: kt8merch.com/store/pages/23260

Track Listing:
 

1. Ashes
2. Faded Gloryville
3. Tell It Like It Is
4. Someday Soon
5. To Love Somebody
6. When You Ain't Home
7. Run-down Neighborhood
8. I Ain't The Girl
9. Run Amuck
10. Half Moon


Tour Dates:
 
August 4 - New York, NY - Mercury Lounge
August 9 - Nashville, TN - Ink N' Iron Festival
August 11 - Eagleview, PA - Concerts in the Square
August 13 - Schwenksville, PA - Philadelphia Folk Festival
August 14 - Charlottesville, VA - The Southern
August 15 - Charlotte, NC - Double Door Inn
August 29 - Athens, GA - Wildwood Revival
August 30 - Atlanta, GA - Sunset Sessions at Park Tavern
September 17 - Nashville, TN - Americana Music Festival
September 18 - Bristol, TN - Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion
September 19 - Bristol, TN - Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion
September 22 - Seattle, WA - Triple Door
September 24 - Victoria, BC - Save On Food Memorial Centre
September 25 - Abbotsford, BC - Abbotsford Centre
September 26 - Kelowna, BC - Prospera Place
September 27 - Cranbrook, BC - Western Financial Place
September 29 - Lethbridge, AB - Geomatic Attic
October 1 - Edmonton, AB - Horowitz
October 2 - Calgary, AB - Flames Central
October 3 - Saskatoon, SK - Capitol Theatre
October 4 - Winnipeg, MB - West End Cultural Centre
October 7 - Minneapolis, MN - The Cedar
October 8 - Milwaukee, WI - Shank Hall
October 9 - Chicago, IL - Schubas
October 10 - Goshen, IN - Ignition Music Garage
October 12 - Ann Arbor, MI - The Ark
October 14 - Washington, D.C. - Gypsy Sally's
October 16 - Boston, MA - The Red Room @ Cafe 939
October 17 - Pawling, NY - Daryl's House
October 20 - London, ON - Aeolian Hall
October 22 - Waterloo, ON - Maxwell's Music House
October 23 - Hamilton, ON - Mills Hardware
October 24 - Toronto, ON - Mod Club

lindiortega.com

A fall return to duty for Collective Soul

Collective Soul, the multi-platinum selling band that helped lead 1990s alternative rock, is set to release their ninth studio release - and Vanguard Records debut - See What You Started By Continuing, on Oct. 2.
The band just premiered the first single “This.” Fans can receive a free download of "This" from the band's website, www.collectivesoul.com.

Formed in the small town of Stockbridge, GA, Collective Soul consists of principal songwriter and frontman Ed Roland (lead vocals/keyboards/guitars), Dean Roland (rhythm guitarist), Will Turpin (bassist), Johnny Rabb (drummer) and Jesse Triplett (lead guitarist).

Roland explains the album title See What You Started By Continuing came following a year off after the band had been going non-stop for 19 years.
“During that year, we had time to reflect and be proud of what we had accomplished over the years,” says Roland. “When we came back together, we were rested and more confident than we had ever been in our careers. We never thought of this as a second chance, but more of a second breath. We wanted to continue doing what we had always done and that was to make guitar driven music.”

Following the release of their first new album in six years, the band will embark on their “21st Birthday” tour. More details to follow.
 
Track listing:
 
This
Hurricane
Exposed
Confession
AYTA (Are You the Answer)
Contagious
Life
Am I Getting Through
Memoirs of 2005
Tradition
Without Me